Why I Changed The Way I Talk To Teenagers About Reading Their Bible by Andy Blanks
Like most of you reading this, a large percentage of the time I spend discipling teenagers is devoted to encouraging them to develop the spiritual practices that form the foundation of a Christ-centered life. Chief among these practices is spending daily time with God in His is Word. And like you, I imagine, I’ve found this to be one of the more challenging areas to see fruit in. And it’s always been this way. You see, I’ve long challenged my teenagers to find set-aside time to meet with God each day through Bible reading and prayer. I’ve challenged them to do this at night before they go to bed, if they had to, but most often I’ve challenged them to find a half hour or so before school to start their day with prayer and Bible reading. I’ve done this for years. I bet you have too.
It occurred to me recently that I don’t speak to teenagers about this in the same way I used to. I have adapted my message.
Nowadays, I find myself encouraging my teenagers not to think about their daily time with God as something that they do for 20 or 30 minutes in the morning or evening, but more like something they do in short bursts throughout their day. I encourage them to listen to a devotion or passage of Scripture on an app on the way to school. I encourage them to pray as their walking between classes, or to simply reflect on some aspect of God as they encounter His creation around them. I encourage them to grab snatches of Scripture using a Bible app as they wait for practice to start. Ultimately, I find myself encouraging them to see their time spent daily with God as much more organic and not so structured.
Here’s why I do this, and a few more thoughts on this whole progression.
First, I realized with the students I disciple, the idea of 20 or 30 minutes of set-aside time to be with God in the morning before school is completely counter-cultural to where they find themselves.
The guys I disciple are up and heading to school by 6AM for practice or study hall or choir, and so on. These same guys have had practice after school the night before until 6PM or so. Once you factor in dinner, shower, and the ton of homework they have, they fall into beds exhausted at 10:30 or 11:00. For these guys, the idea that they would get up 30 minutes early is a big deal. I like the idea of freeing them from the burden of this expectation. I like helping them reframe their relationship with God in a less legalistic way.
Second, who the heck said that communing with God has to look a certain way anyway?
Well, I guess I did. And I guess the reason why I did is because that’s the way it was taught to me. But culturally, it’s just not a relevant practice to my teenagers. And I would rather adapt to set them up for success than make them feel burdened by a practice that is admittedly difficult for them.
Third, I absolutely, 100% still think that meeting God in His Word in silence and solitude is the best way to commune with God.
It’s the way Jesus modeled for us. It’s been practiced for thousands of years by everyone from cloistered monks to your Grandmamma. Heck, I did it this morning, alone, at 4:45 AM while everyone else was asleep. And maybe that’s the secret to why I have adapted my message.
The goal is to get my teenagers meeting with God through His Word and through prayer. I couldn’t possibly care less how they do it.
Why? Because I know this: when they begin to understand the value in this relational connection to God, it will birth in them a desire to meet with Him more. At that point their habits will catch up with their hearts. I believe they’ll ADD a daily time of quiet reflection with God to their organic, meeting with God in the day’s margins way of interacting with Him. And if they do, they will own a wonderfully holistic approach to engaging with their Creator on a daily basis.
My goal is simply this: I long for my teenagers to know God in a way that is dynamic and transformative. I want them to have practices that enable this. And I am open to any model that precipitates their spiritual growth.
I’m curious what your thoughts are. What have you done that’s successful, not just in getting your students to “check the box” of their daily quiet time, but in creating a hunger to know God in your students? Do you think I’m completely missing it? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.